College football Week 11 – A guide to the biggest games
Drama highlighted a Week 10 of college football, and while Week 11’s slate doesn’t quite provide the firepower of two top-10 matchups and Clemson’s trip to Notre Dame, there’s still plenty on the line.
If Alabama wants to keep any hope alive to make the SEC title game, it will have to beat Lane Kiffin and the one-loss Rebels in Oxford. The Crimson Tide enter the crucial SEC West matchup with two losses, something typically unthinkable in mid-November under Nick Saban.
The next step for the upstart No. 4 TCU Horned Frogs is a trip to Austin, where they’ve beaten Texas four of the past five times they’ve headed south. The Horned Frogs clinched a berth in the Big 12 title game already but will have to keep a perfect record rolling if they want to stay in the College Football Playoff mix.
Speaking of the playoff, No. 3 Michigan hosts Nebraska, opening as a 31-point favorite. The Wolverines will likely use the game as a tune-up before hosting a ranked Illinois team and a trip to Columbus for the biggest game of the season.
Out west, Oregon hopes to keep its playoff hopes alive as rival Washington heads to Eugene looking to play spoiler. And UCF and Tulane meet in one of the biggest Group of 5 matchups this season.
These are the biggest storylines ahead of Week 11’s action.
No. 9 Alabama (7-2, 4-2) at No. 11 Ole Miss (8-1, 4-1): Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
This isn’t a terribly complicated game to figure out. Ole Miss wants to do one thing in particular on offense: run the football. The question is, can Alabama stop it?
On the face of it, the answer might be yes. The Crimson Tide are giving up the third-fewest rushing yards per game in the SEC this season (104.0). But dig deeper, and 37.6% of rush attempts have resulted in 5 or more yards gained. And, removing sacks, opposing quarterbacks are averaging 5.32 yards per rush.
During Saturday’s loss at LSU, quarterback Jayden Daniels ran for 95 yards and a touchdown. A few weeks earlier, during Alabama’s other loss to Tennessee, Hendon Hooker ran for 56 yards.
Don’t think for a second that Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin didn’t notice that. His quarterback, Jaxson Dart, is plenty capable in the run game, totaling 473 yards on the ground this season.
What’s more, Dart has two great running backs to play off. Quinshon Judkins, the bruiser and lead back, has 1,036 yards rushing. Zach Evans, a more explosive change-of-pace back, has 680 yards.
Alabama coach Nick Saban called the Rebs “one of the best running teams in the country.” They’re third nationally with 267.4 yards per game.
“They do a really good job with formation multiples, motions, trying to get the defense to adjust,” Saban said. “They’ve got really good running plays, but they’re running those same plays out of all those different multiples, which is trying to put different players in different positions, so you make a mistake, you have a gap open and they hit a play on you.
“So this is one of those where you have to have 11 guys on the same page doing the right things or they’re going to find a way to get to you.”
Ole Miss’ 83 runs of 10 or more yards is the most in the FBS — and 13 more than the second-ranked teams, North Texas and Oregon.
Further complicating matters is the question of motivation for Alabama, which has two losses before the Iron Bowl for the first time since 2010.
Unless LSU implodes and loses both of its remaining SEC games — unranked matchups on the road at Arkansas and Texas A&M — the Tide won’t reach the SEC championship game.
“I know people have kind of written us off to some degree,” Saban said, “but at the same time, I think we have a lot of pride as an organization. I think we need to get focused on what it takes to win games.” — Alex Scarborough
No. 4 TCU (9-0, 6-0) at No. 18 Texas (6-3, 4-2): Saturday, 7:30 ET on ABC
The Horned Frogs roll into Austin in one of the biggest games in school history, the same week they landed at No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Yet, they’re a 7-point underdog to the Longhorns, the most points the Horns have been favored by over a top-five team since the 1978 FBS/FCS split.
“We haven’t beaten a top-five team here at [Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium] since 1999, so it’s a great opportunity for us to hopefully prepare well and play well for our fans,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I’m looking forward to an electric and a great intimidating environment.”
Texas jumped out to big first-half leads at Oklahoma State and Kansas State and ended up losing to the Cowboys and holding on against the Wildcats. That’s been an issue since the beginning of last season, as the Longhorns have blown four 14-point leads over that time, most in the FBS. Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs are 4-0 this year when trailing in the second half, tied with 2010 Auburn and 2012 Ohio State as the only teams to go 4-0 or better in that instance in the past 15 seasons.
The Texas defense (including special assistant Gary Patterson, the former TCU coach) will face a challenge with the big-play Frogs. TCU has 13 touchdowns of 40-plus yards this season, the most in the FBS and the most in a season in at least 15 seasons. The Texas D, meanwhile, has allowed just seven plays of 40 yards all year, tied for third fewest in the Big 12.
The matchup also features the top two rushers in the league, Bijan Robinson (1,129 yards) and Kendre Miller (1,009). Robinson leads the FBS in missed tackles forced with 68, while Miller is fourth with 55.
The game is a massive chance for Texas to stay in the Big 12 race. ESPN Analytics gives Texas a 73% chance to make the Big 12 title game with a win and just a 39% chance with a loss. TCU, meanwhile, would clinch a spot with a win and fall to 86% with a loss.
It’s also a huge statement chance for TCU in the College Football Playoff race. The Horned Frogs ranked seventh in the first College Football Playoff ranking, leading to concern that their “brand” wasn’t getting the respect of the committee, before bumping up to fourth this week after Clemson and Alabama losses. A win at Texas would go a long way toward earning more respect.
“I do think there’s always extra motivation when you play against the big-brand team, whether it’s Oklahoma, whether it’s Texas,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said. “They’ve got a lot of Twitter followers, TikTok followers, all that.” — Dave Wilson
Heather Dinich discusses why TCU has to win out if it wants a chance at the playoff.
Nebraska (3-6, 2-4) at No. 3 Michigan (9-0, 6-0): Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN App
Michigan’s offense this season has gone through running back Blake Corum, who is tied for the most rushing touchdowns among FBS backs with 16.
Corum is No. 4 in rush yards with 1,187, No. 1 in rushing first downs and No. 11 in runs for 10 or more yards this season. With 17 total touchdowns this season, Corum has accounted for nearly 40% of Michigan’s offensive touchdowns.
“He’s definitely having an MVP season for us here at Michigan. Be hard to imagine that he wouldn’t, the way he’s going, win the Heisman Trophy,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Leading in touchdowns, leading points scored, consistently really good every game, and there’s been quite a few backs who have won the Heisman Trophy. And I would bet my truck that Blake Corum is on pace or ahead of many of those running backs that have won that Heisman Trophy.”
Corum has run his way into the Heisman conversation, and Nebraska now has the challenge of slowing him down. Nebraska is allowing an average of 182.9 rush yards per game, which ranks 108th among all FBS programs.
The team is allowing 4.51 yards per rush, which ranks 99th, and has allowed 18 rushing touchdowns this season, ranked 106th among all teams.
Interim coach Mickey Joseph knows the team will have its hands full with Corum this weekend and will need to focus on stopping the run.
“He is probably one of the top backs in the country. I think he is getting Heisman votes right now,” Joseph said. “If you watch the film, he runs low to the ground, he runs with violence and he has a really good burst. When he sees it, he sees it and he bursts through the hole. He is a really good football player.”
Joseph has had the unenviable task of keeping focused a team whose head coach was fired just three games into the season. He not only has to prepare the team for its weekly opponent but also has to make sure it continues to fight through the end of the season.
“We talk to them about having a lot of pride, about not being broken, and to continue to fight, and that we started something and we are going to finish it against adversity, but we have to bow our neck and we have to play football,” Joseph said. “That is the only way you can approach it, but like I said, it is a good group. It is a good group of kids, and they are not going to quit.” — Tom VanHaaren
No. 25 Washington at No. 6 Oregon (8-1, 6-0): Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox
The arc of the Ducks’ season has taken on a storybook approach. After getting welcomed into the year with a blowout at the hands of Georgia, that valley has quickly turned into an eight-week-long peak: eight wins, zero losses and at least 40 points scored in each game. And, aside from that disappointing season-opening performance, the Ducks have handled the two other top-25 opponents they’ve faced in UCLA and BYU with relative ease. Washington sneaked into the top 25 this past week, making it the third ranked opponent the Ducks have welcomed to Eugene and giving this week’s matchup a bit more juice than expected, especially given the games Oregon is facing in the near future.
“This is one of those weeks that you don’t have to give any extra fuel for our players to be excited and ready to roll,” Oregon head coach Dan Lanning said earlier this week. “They all understand the significance of this game, how important it is, and they’re definitely ready to attack.”
Any concern with Oregon looking ahead to big games against Utah and rival Oregon State won’t faze his team, according to Lanning. If anything, it appears that all the waking up the Ducks needed happened in Week 1, and they have not taken any opponent lightly since. It helps that quarterback Bo Nix has looked the part of a Heisman contender, not only throwing for nearly 2,500 yards and 22 touchdowns but also being more efficient and less turnover-prone. The Huskies’ defense will require another stellar performance after two easy weeks against Cal and Colorado.
Of course, a stumble against the Huskies — who have looked much better of late and are still led by one of the better quarterbacks this season in Michael Penix Jr. — could jeopardize not just a conference championship for Oregon but a playoff run too. To hear Lanning talk about it, though, the Ducks are hitting their stride at the perfect time.
“Obviously coming on from Game 1 wasn’t the result we wanted,” Lanning said of how the schedule has shaken out. “But since then, our players have done a really good job of having great resolve and attacking what we can get better at each week, and that really hasn’t changed.”
Should the Ducks keep winning, the Georgia loss will continue to look less and less like a blemish and more like the spark they needed. — Paolo Uggetti
No. 22 UCF (7-2, 4-1) at No. 17 Tulane (8-1, 5-0): 3:30 p.m., ESPN2
A year after stumbling to a 2-10 season, Tulane has put together one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college football this season — not only ranked in the CFP for the first time but also 5-0 and alone in first place in the AAC for the first time as well.
Its home game Saturday against UCF will most certainly have an impact not only on who plays for a conference championship but also who gets the coveted Group of 5 spot in the New Year’s Six. UCF and Tulane are the only two Group of 5 teams in the latest CFP rankings.
A UCF win would give the Knights the edge to play for the American championship, as they would have beaten both Tulane and Cincinnati head-to-head. Plus they finish out the season with Navy and USF, two teams with losing records.
A Tulane win would keep it undefeated and atop the standings, but it has a much harder finish to its season — with games left against two winning teams, SMU and Cincinnati. With a handful of teams all in the mix to play in the conference championship game, there are no clinching scenarios on the table for this week.
For his part, Tulane coach Willie Fritz has tried not to hype up what the game against UCF means with his team. Nor has he tried to overplay the historical significance of where Tulane is headed down the stretch. But make no mistake, this is a huge opportunity that awaits.
This matchup against UCF marks the first time a ranked Tulane team hosts another ranked team since Nov. 26, 1949, when No. 10 Tulane hosted No. 13 LSU … in an SEC matchup. Tulane has lost 60 consecutive games against AP-ranked teams, the longest streak in the poll era (since 1936).
“I just think it’s my job to try to have our guys as prepared as they can possibly be and talking about what-ifs, and this, that and the other thing — I leave that to other people to do,” Fritz said during his news conference this week. “We just want to go 1-0.”
Tulane has had success this season thanks to its defense, which ranks No. 11 in the nation in scoring defense (16.9 points per game) and No. 16 in total defense (307.3 rushing yards per game). Against UCF, the Green Wave, in all likelihood, are preparing for two quarterbacks.
UCF coach Gus Malzahn has not said whether Mikey Keene or John Rhys Plumlee will start Saturday. Plumlee sustained a concussion against Cincinnati two weeks ago, and Keene came into the game and led the Knights to the upset win. Keene got the start last week, leading them to another win, 35-28 at Memphis. — Andrea Adelson
Clinching scenarios for Week 11
• Clemson has clinched the Atlantic Division.
• North Carolina clinches the Coastal with a win at Wake Forest OR losses by Duke (vs. Virginia Tech) and Georgia Tech (vs. Miami). According to ESPN Analytics, there’s a 51% chance the Tar Heels clinch the division this week.
• TCU clinches a spot in the Big 12 championship game with a win at Texas. According to ESPN Analytics, there’s a 27% chance the Horned Frogs clinch a spot in the championship game this week.
• Georgia clinches the East with a win at Mississippi State OR a Tennessee loss to Missouri. According to ESPN Analytics, there’s an 85% chance the Bulldogs clinch the division this week.
• LSU clinches the West with a win at Arkansas AND an Ole Miss loss to Alabama. According to ESPN Analytics, there’s a 54% chance the Tigers clinch the division this week.
Group of 5
• UTSA clinches a spot in the Conference USA championship game with a win against Louisiana Tech. According to ESPN Analytics, there’s an 84% chance the Roadrunners clinch a spot in the championship game this week.
• North Texas clinches a spot in the Conference USA championship game with a win at UAB AND a Rice loss at Western Kentucky. According to ESPN Analytics, there’s a 30% chance the Mean Green clinch a spot in the championship game this week.
• Toledo clinches the West with a win Tuesday against Ball State AND a Western Michigan loss Wednesday against Northern Illinois. According to ESPN Analytics, there’s a 40% chance the Rockets clinch the division this week.
• Coastal Carolina clinches the East with a win against Southern Miss OR losses by Georgia State (vs. UL Monroe) and Old Dominion (vs. James Madison). According to ESPN Analytics, there’s a 75% chance the Chanticleers clinch the division this week.